Women’s rights activists and anti-violence advocates are continuing to put pressure on the National Football League (NFL), calling for a more inclusive and robust institutional response to domestic violence and sexual assault as well as an independent investigation into the League.
This summer, NFL executive leadership came under fire after the League failed to take action when video evidence of Ravens’ running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée surfaced. Earlier this month, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the steps the League has taken to address its conduct. In forming a new advisory board, calling for a policy review, and appointing expert advocates to lead their program changes, Roger Goodell pointed to the League’s intent to change, and admitted his own complicity in being slow to act. “I got it wrong in the handling of the Ray Rice matter, and I’m sorry for that,” Goodell said.
Goodell has also called on FBI Director Robert Mueller to conduct an “independent” investigation of the League’s process in reviewing Ray Rice’s conduct. “I promise you that any shortcomings he finds in how we dealt with the situation will lead to swift action,” Goodell said. The Commissioner maintained the League is taking these issues seriously, even announcing a new long-term partnership with the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
But problems remain.
Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW) commented that the appointment of Mueller to conduct an investigation was “window dressing.” The choice of Mueller, a partner at the law firm WilmerHale – which represents the League itself – has called into question whether the investigation is truly “independent,” and some have said that the conflict of interest has already compromised the investigation.
O’Neill also called for a broader investigation into the League, not one focused solely on Ray Rice. “Glaringly absent from Mr. Goodell’s remarks is a commitment to conduct an independent investigation into all of the incidents of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking on his watch,” said O’Neill. “Such an investigation would, at minimum, ask how many victims reached out to NFL leadership for help over the years? What was the response? What services did the victims request? Did they receive them? If not, why not? Were the victims satisfied? What steps does the NFL take, as part of its response protocol, to keep the victims safe? What are its metrics of success — how does it measure whether the victim is safe? What about the victim’s economic security? What measures does the NFL take to ensure the victim’s economic security?”
The absence of a real independent investigation, is only one issue with the NFL response. While acknowledging that the creation of an advisory board on to lead NFL reforms is a positive step, O’Neill also points out that the NFL has already demonstrated blatant policy violations that have gone unacknowledged by the League’s leadership. As one example, O’Neill explained, “Days after announcing his new domestic violence policy, Goodell said Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers, who is facing a felony domestic violence charge, could play in the team’s season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.”
‘The NFL has lost its way,” remarked O’Neill. “It doesn’t have a Ray Rice problem; it has a violence against women problem.” She continued, “The only workable solution is for Roger Goodell to resign.”
The advisory board has also drawn criticism from the Black Women’s Roundtable for not including any women of color. The NFL has offered a meeting between the Black Women’s Roundtable and two NFL executives, Anna Isaacson, the newly appointed Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility, and Troy Vincent, who has served as head of player engagement for the NFL and Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Melanie Campbell, Convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable said the group will accept the offer, but the meeting is only preliminary.
At a press conference during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference last week, Karma Cottman, the Executive Director of the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence and a Roundtable member, stressed that the group isn’t simply calling for women of color representation among the NFL’s advisory board for the sake of inclusion, but because of the knowledge gap a more diverse group would fill. “The NFL’s advisory team must include Black women with a demonstrated expertise in the development and implementation of culturally specific services, policies, and programs addressing domestic violence and sexual assault in the Black community,” Cottman said.
Meanwhile, the NFL has gotten the attention of Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) who introduced legislation to create $100 million in funding for domestic violence prevention programs – paid for by closing a tax loophole used by the NFL and other professional sports leagues. According to the senator’s office, there are 10 professional sports leagues that enjoy tax-exempt status, including the National Football League, National Hockey League, Professional Golf Association and US Tennis Association. Many have held this nonprofit status since the 1960s.
Media Resources: Boston Globe 9/25/14; Black Women’s Roundtable 9/24/14; National Organization for Women 9/19/14, 9/11/14, 9/9/14; National Football League 9/19/14, 9/15/14; Feminist Newswire 9/18/14; Feminist Majority Foundation Blog 9/17/14; Senator Cory Booker 9/16/14; NBC Sports 9/14/14; Library of Congress